Food Pantry Closes Shop After 3 Years in Torrance

Times Staff Writer

The South Bay has its share of the hungry and homeless, but most residents of Torrance and other middle-class areas aren’t aware of them, says Geraldene York, who operated a food pantry for the poor in Torrance for three years until it closed last week.

“I think it’s because people don’t want to see them,” she said. “Or maybe it’s because they stay in the shopping malls and banking areas and rarely, if ever, drive through the places where the poor live.”

One area, she said, where many elderly people live and the homeless get temporary lodging in hotels under a county program is Northeast Torrance, between Crenshaw Boulevard and Western Avenue, particularly in the old downtown section.

York said she founded the food pantry, which she called His House, at the Foursquare Gospel Church in early 1986 after she became aware of an increasing number of people seeking help at the church and on the streets.


“People at the church gave out money, but often you couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t be spent on alcohol or drugs,” York said. “I felt there was a need for a place that dispensed food and clothing.”

The church provided free space in its fellowship hall for three years, she said, and last year the pantry gave out food and clothing five days a week, serving 800 to 1,000 families a month. She said the pantry also dispensed hot food several times a week.

Plans to Remodel

But now the church plans to remodel the building and needs York’s space to expand church activities.

“Geraldene has been doing marvelous work and there is undoubtedly a great need for these food programs,” said the Rev. Hooper W. White, pastor of the Foursquare church. “We waited as long as we could (before asking York to relocate), but we do have to get something done on these remodeling programs.”

White said he agreed that “not many people in Torrance” are aware of the growing number of hungry and homeless people in the city.

“It’s true that many people don’t want to know about the hunger problem in their own cities,” said Sister Michele Morris, who has operated the House of Yahweh food center in Lawndale for six years. “If they did become aware, they would have to do something about it.”

Morris said she is confident that York will find another location for her food ministry. “With that kind of dedication, you just don’t give up,” she said.

On the pantry’s final day last week, York was home sick after several weeks of helping the needy over the holidays. But her daughter, Debbie Henderson, and another volunteer, Chery Carew, were there to hand out grocery sacks filled with dry cereal, canned meet and vegetables, day-old bread and other food for 123 families.

Several people seemed confused when they were told that the pantry was closing. “But where will we go?” one woman asked.

“I almost feel like we’re deserting them,” said York, who has been searching for another location for nearly a year. “These people came to rely on us and now we’re not there for them any more.”

York said the pantry’s refrigerators and remaining food stock will be moved to a volunteer’s garage and the group will continue limited operations by delivering food with a van.

Christian Duty

“We’ll try to keep in touch with those who have the greatest need,” she said. “We know where they are, so we’ll just drive there and serve them as best we can.”

York, who said she considers it her Christian duty to help feed and clothe the needy, has not given up hope of finding another permanent location, despite her lack of success so far. She said other churches she has asked don’t have facilities for storing large refrigerators and food supplies.

A number of downtown stores have become vacant in recent months, she said, but the owners have declined to rent space to the group.

York said the needy include senior citizens, low-income families, people out of work, the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug addicts, and the homeless who live in cars or vans or on the street. At least 75% are white and most of the rest are Latino and Samoan, she said. Most have some ties or roots in Torrance.

Joanne Bell, who helps coordinate food programs for the Presbytery of the Pacific, a Presbyterian Church organization, said there are about 450 food pantries in the county, including several others in Torrance. But York’s was the only one in the city that was open every weekday, she said.

‘It All Goes for Food’

York said the pantry had relied on donations of food, clothing and money from churches, service organizations, businesses and food banks. Cash donations run from $150 to $200 a week and “it all goes for food, every penny of it,” she said.

Besides fulfilling a religious mission, York said, helping the needy has brought many personal satisfactions to the volunteers.

“I remember this woman who moved from the Midwest and was having some difficulty getting settled,” York said. “We helped her, and after she got back on her feet, she stopped by and hugged us and started crying, and she said, ‘I don’t know what would have happened to me if you hadn’t been here.’

“Sometimes just a little help and caring about others can make such a difference.”